Child Protection: Why doesn’t fixing it work?

Child protection social work involves risk. It always will. The right decisions cannot always be made and sometimes it can be a question of choosing between the least damaging alternatives.

We have had a long list of child abuse tragedies for over thirty years now – in Aotearoa New Zealand and in comparable jurisdictions – and we have had an almost continuous process of crisis-driven review and reform. Child abuse – under or over intervention – is emotive at a very primal level and it is an enticing political football (Warner, 2015).

To varying degrees reforms are always politically motivated and they are then operationalised by management systems obsessed with targets and performance. As far as quality practice is concerned it is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the chook house.

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Will we listen this time?

I have read the report of the Māori Inquiry into Oranga Tamariki (Ko Te Wā Whakawhiti) with great interest, not least because of the mana carried by the members of the governance group. It is a bold Report. Much of the message is not new but the urgency and energy of the wero is palpable: ‘The inquiry did not have the luxury of time, but neither do our whānau’ (Foreword, p.6).

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Re-Imagining devolution – PUAO-TE-ATA-TU revisited

It is timely to engage openly with some of the tensions at the heart of the social work child protection project. Everyone will tell you child protection is a complex field, but this begs a related question – who defines this complexity: complex in what ways and according to who?

I think it is important to recognise that questions can be posed from differing perspectives and pitched at differing levels of analysis. However, the task in front of us is to bring insights together and to begin to weave a new way forward. I will argue here that the messages present in Puao te Ata Tu remain clear and compelling. These messages point to the need to critically re-examine the concept of self-determination for Māori as it relates to the question of child protection.

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Waiting on those inquiries – untangling child protection from capitalist economics

This one is about the politics of dispossession, poverty and incarceration in neoliberal New Zealand. It is no secret that Māori, Pasifika and working-class families generally carry a disproportionate burden of social suffering in our society. Look around you if you don’t believe me. We need to dismantle the structures that perpetuate social inequality.

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Child Protection – checks, balances and contested imperatives

This one is for the lawyers. Child protection and the appropriate legal framework to facilitate ‘best practice’ is a subject which has been vigorously contested across Anglophone societies over the last forty years. These debates reflect differing disciplinary perspectives and differing ideological influences such as the tension between the discourse of individual children’s rights on the one hand and claims to collective cultural autonomy for whānau Māori on the other. Much of this friction is generated by, and reflected in, the economic and political changes that have developed since the 1970s, when the so-called ‘Welfare State consensus’ started to unravel. Parton (2014) argues that changes to child protection practice over time are best understood as responses to changing (and contested) constructions of the preferred relationship between the state, the family and children; and more specifically the children of the poor.

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The spotlight is on us- an apology is due

Lesley Max’s book ‘Children: An endangered species’ in 1990 opened the eyes of many in Aotearoa NZ to the horror of child abuse. And in a recent story on Newsroom Max expressed her feelings about how little has changed. In this post I’m not saying that we can’t do so much better because we have to!  Social workers must apologise when we do wrong and take responsibility for poor practice in our name and work to fix the systems that hamper good work. We have to stand up for a human rights-based social work against the orders of risk averse managers. As a social work educator and researcher I want our students and graduates to go into systems that support the best practice.  We can’t let overwork and scarce resources become an excuse for not treating whānau with respect and kindness. We have to fight for much better support for families. We have to ensure that practice is principled, honest and can stand the spotlight. It is time for child protection in Aotearoa to be more transparent, see for example the UK based Transparency Project.

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Oranga Tamariki – A Tipping Point?

Like many of us recently, I have watched the ‘baby uplift’ footage story featured in Newsroom and read some of the avalanche of concerned and outraged commentary that has followed. I found the story disturbing on many levels – extremely disturbing but, sadly, not surprising. I think that the practice on display and the media responses from the Oranga Tamariki hierarchy illustrate deep-seated systemic problems within the state child protection system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Disguised compliance revisited

In a recent new blogpost Jadwiga Leigh asks, do we still have issues with this term two years on from her first blog on RSW (Leigh, 2017).

In 2017, Paul Hart, a family law barrister, wrote an article for the Family Law website entitled ‘Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense?’ It was an article which led to a huge debate on Twitter which Jadwiga Leigh captured by turning into a storify [sadly unavailable now due to the closure of storify] . It took two years (!) but we have finally managed to turn that storify into an article  (Leigh, Beddoe, & Keddell, 2019) which has just been published with Families, Relationships and Societies. For those who want the shortened version of the article, here is the blog that accompanies it:

When Hart published his online piece, it was clear he was troubled by two things. First, although the term disguised compliance was being applied to the concept of parental resistance, it was ineffectively describing that which was being implied. Therefore, although the term was being used by social workers to express concerns about non-compliance or resistance, when broken down into two distinct separate words, ‘disguised’ ‘compliance’, it actually meant ‘concealed’ ‘agreement’. Hart realized that it was highly unlikely that parents would hide their agreement with a social care plan but much more likely that parents would try and hide their disagreement with a plan. Therefore, disguised compliance is a term that more effectively describes parental agreement rather than disagreement or resistance…….

In child protection work, expectations of compliance almost always emerge in the context of a contract-like agreement between the professional and service user that establishes roles and responsibilities. However, without collaboration from parents, lack of parental investment is a likely outcome. The parent then becomes the problem rather than the professional…. or the forensic, risk-laden context in which the professional is situated in. And, sadly, these kind of cultural contexts are primed to interpret the behaviour of parents who do not keep appointments but do tidy the house as exhibiting ‘disguised compliance’.

To read more visit the blog here

Reference

Leigh, J., Beddoe , L., & Keddell, E. (2019). Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense? A critical discourse analysis of compliance and resistance in social work practice. Families, Relationships and Societies. Online first. Free until 30 June.

Leigh, J. Beddoe, L., & Keddell, E. (May 30 2019). Disguised compliance or undisguised nonsense? Two years on from the original Twitter debate, are there still issues with disguised compliance? [Blog post] Retrieved from https://www.newbeginningsgm.com/single-post/2019/05/30/Disguised-compliance-or-undisguised-nonsense-Do-we-still-have-issues-two-years-on-from-the-original-Twitter-debate

Leigh, J. (30 April, 2017) ‘Disguised compliance’ – innocent shorthand term or jargon hiding a powerful discourse? [Blog post]. Retrieved from  https://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz/2017/04/disguised-compliance-innocent-shorthand-term-or-jargon-hiding-a-powerful-discourse/

Child Protection Visions – Sticks, Carrots and Care

Looking at the budget announcement of a new specialist support service delivered from 5 Oranga Tamariki sites “employing family/whanau support workers to support children and young people who are at risk of harm to be safe in their home”, I am pleased to see that at least some form of initiative has come to pass, albeit 3.5 years out from the Expert Panel recommendation for an intensive intervention programme. Having said that, this response remains seriously underwhelming. It reflects the inability of Oranga Tamariki and the current Government to get its priorities right in relation to child protection social work. In this post I will consider some of the challenges in moving child protection practice from a statutory care focus to a social work support focus. I will also explore some of the tensions arising from the conflicted legislative mandate within which this particular specialist support service will operate.

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Hard to get into, but harder to get out of: understanding recent trends in child protection

Examination of basic trends in child protection statistics provide insight into the overall functioning of the child protection system. Statistical trends are the ‘canaries down the mine’ of child protection systems, showing how policy changes, practice changes and social conditions are playing out in the child protection domain. This blog presents statistics obtained through the Official Information Act process, as well as publicly available data, to describe patterns in contact with the child protection system. It also provides some speculative commentary as to the causes of emerging trends. As these statistics are gathered from several sources, time periods differ and in places direct comparisons may not be possible. Nevertheless, the clear pattern is one of a care system hard to get into, but even harder to get out of, and increasing inequities for Māori children and whānau.

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